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Georgia Supreme Court to hear appeal in Hall man’s molestation conviction

Lawyers for a Hall County man convicted of child molestation will argue before the Georgia Supreme Court Tuesday on whether “negative ethnic stereotypes” regarding Latino men affected the trial, according to court documents.

Alejandro Martinez-Arias was sentenced by Superior Court Judge C. Andrew Fuller to life with 25 years to serve in prison after a February 2017 jury trial on charges of child molestation, aggravated child molestation and aggravated sexual battery.

Kathleen Joyner, the court’s public information officer, wrote in an announcement for the oral argument that the court will consider “whether testimony about stereotypical cultural characteristics of an ethnic group to which a criminal defendant and his victim belong is relevant, and if so, (if it is) admissible when offered as lay opinion testimony.”

The Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction in July 2020, and Martinez-Arias’ counsel petitioned the Georgia Supreme Court to review in September 2020. In April, the court granted review.

The case will be heard at 10 a.m.

Martinez-Arias’ attorneys, Northeastern Judicial Circuit Public Defender Brad Morris and Assistant Public Defender Matt Leipold, have argued that a school counselor testified that child molestation in the Latino community is “kind of seen as, if it happens … it is the girl’s fault for opening her legs and the boys are just supposed to be that way, they just have urges.” 

The attorneys argued that this testimony “should have been excluded as irrelevant and not rationally based on the counselor’s perceptions,” according to court briefs.

Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh’s office claimed the Martinez-Arias’ attorneys were misrepresenting the counselor’s testimony, which was intended to explain “how cultural norms and familial attitudes may have contributed in some way to her delay in disclosing the sexual abuse she suffered.”

The court often issues an opinion in the months following oral argument.

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